“The Invention of Lying” is the closest thing to a Mel Brooks’ satire since a Mel Brooks’ satire. Ricky Gervais, the film’s writer, director and star, sets up the premise for the audience at the very start of the movie with a voiceover explaining the human race has not developed the capacity to tell a lie. Everything else about the world exists just like it does today except for this one small detail.
This means there’s no such thing as fiction and people are brutally honest about everything. The kick is people aren’t being honest to be cruel or make a point, they just don’t know any different and don’t realize what they are saying could be considered hurtful. This ignorance makes the premise work and Gervais finds a way to keep the humor fresh and inventive. Still, a whole movie about not being able to tell a lie in a world bound by truth could get old quickly. Luckily the movie finds a way to show some consequences of lying that touch upon everyday truths people take for granted.
The script, written by Gervais and Matthew Robinson (who also co-directed), offers subtle commentary on religion, love, the afterlife, beauty, and the pursuit of perfection. The dialogue is witty and a few scenes include some very hilarious site gags thrown in for extra laughs.
There are moments of sincerity that give Gervais a chance to demonstrate he can do more than just crack jokes. He plays Mark Bellison, a pudgy, down-on-his-luck screenwriter who works at a studio that produces films of historical events. Interestingly, since fiction doesn’t exist the “movies” are really just a person reading a script from a Teleprompter.
While its nice to think the world would be a better place if everyone told the truth, it can also be very dull if imagination and creativity are absent. There are times when making things up can be beneficial.
Mark’s ability to lie develops after he loses his job and is threatened with eviction if he doesn’t come up with $800 for his rent. At the bank he suddenly decides to tell the bank teller that he has $800 in his account and the teller trusts him over the bank’s own computer records.
It doesn’t take Mark long to realize the ability to lie can make him rich and he takes full advantage of the situation. His troubles start when he tells his mother on her deathbed that death is not marked by eternal nothingness and is instead a place where all of her loved ones are waiting for her. This creates a media uproar as everyone wants to know more about what happens upon death.
Gervais served as co-writer and co-director for the UK version of “The Office” and “Extras” for HBO. Both shows relied on a self-aware form of comedy that created humor from uncomfortable situations or behavior. The comedy in “The Invention of Lying” is more straightforward and Gervais is likable in the role.
There is an excellent supporting cast who are here to just play the straight man to Gervais. Rob Lowe and Tina Frey are satisfactory in their roles. Keep an eye out for two uncredited performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton.